Nigeria: Bailing the Nigerian Paper Industry
Stakeholders in the paper industry expressed the view that non-wood fibre plants could hold the key to reviving ailing paper industry in Nigeria.
Adequate investments and sourcing long fibre plants locally have been identified as ways to rescue Nigeria’s dying pulp and paper industry. The move would also help the country to extricate itself from the trap of importing almost all of its paper needs from abroad. The long fibrous plants researches have revealed that could enable Nigeria to revive its paper industry include kenaf, bamboo, sugarcane bagasse, agricultural residues, cornstalks, cotton stalks and wheat straw, etc. The resort to fibrous is necessitated by the fact that reliance on short fibre woods and failure to introduce long fibre woods species in the country accounted largely for the poor performance of the integrated pulp and paper industries that were established in the country in the 1960s when Nigeria gained its independence from Britain. Today, Nigeria’s has installed capacity for the production of paper could produce barely 265,000 metric tonnes per annum out the country’s annual need of 3.0 million metric tonnes. This clearly illustrated how deep the country is depending on import to meet its domestic needs of paper. Moreover, a trade data that was released this year by COMTRADE, which was quoted by the Director General, Raw Material Research Development Council, Professor Hussaini D. Ibrahim, showed that Nigeria spent $696 million on the importation paper products, which included paper, paperboard and art paper, in 2020. He added that Nigeria is presently importing waste paper to compliment locally available ones. Apart from the monetary cost of the importation in foreign currency, the state of the paper industry in the country is costing Nigeria more than 300,000 jobs that would have been available to Nigerians.
Ibrahim stated this in a paper titled “Fibrous Raw Materials Availability for Utilisation by Nigeria Paper Industry: RMRDC Initiatives.” The major reason for the failure of the investments in the country’s paper industry had been predominantly attributed to the absence of long fibre plant resources in the Nigerian forests which necessitated outrageous dependence on imported long fibre pulp. The second factor militating against the development of the paper industry is the sector’s absolute dependence on imported chemicals.
Ibrahim said: “As a result, presently, only 5.0 per cent of all the raw materials needed for making paper in Nigeria are sourced locally.” Lack of these basic raw materials have hobbled the country’s effort to establish successful paper mills since the 1960s, when integrated pulp and paper mills were established to ensure domestic satisfaction of the country’s pulp and paper requirements and to generate foreign currency through export. These integrated mills include Nigerian Paper Mill, Jebba, Nigeria Newsprint Manufacturing Company, Oku Iboku, and Iwopin Pulp and Paper Company. These companies became comatose in 1996 and were subsequently privatized in 2006. Ibrahim summed up the state of the industry thus: “From economic point of view, the paper industry has the lowest figures for production and consumption for local products among all the industrial divisions, placing the sector on the rank of likely lowest capital investment and output.
“This may likely be as a result of the deplorable performance of the existing paper mills. It may also be due to the unwillingness of investors to invest in the paper industry business due to the long perceptions hinging on the absence of raw material resource.
“This is so because the situation though changing was a result of decreasing availability of wood due to rapid deforestation globally.” Yet, there is a glimmer of hope for the future of paper industry in Nigeria. Various studies have indicated massive availability of different fibre resources including recycled fibre, which may help in transforming the paper industry landscape.
These fibrous plants that could change the fortune of the paper industry in Nigeria are kenaf, bamboo and sugarcane among others. Ibrahim said that kenaf is a shrub that has been cultivated in Africa for a long time and its utilisation for pulp and paper production has been internationalised. “It is an annual plant with a single, straight, urbranched stalk composed of fibrous bark and an interior woody core.
“Kenaf has been used as a substitute for wood pulp and paper production in Thailand and China. Studies carried out in Nigeria shows the fibre length of kenaf bast fibre to be 2.90mm while the fibre diameter was 28.16um.
“Kenaf cooked with kraft, soda or neutral sulfite process produce better quality pulp than hardwood pulp.
“As a result kenaf bast fibre could go a long way in alleviating the problems posed by a shortage of long fibre puld to Nigeria paper mills. Mixed with different percentages of hardwoods, it is used to make printing and writing paper, newsprint, linerboard, tissue, bleached paperboard, cigarette paper and other light specialty papers.”
According to Professor at Faculty of Renewable Natural Resources, Department of Forest Production and Products, University of Ibadan, Professor Abiodun Oluwafemi Oluwadare, there are numerous fibrous raw materials for pulp and paper production in Nigeria that ranged from indigenous to exotic tree and non-wood species. These raw materials, according to Oluwadare, are well grown in Nigeria from the mangrove in the south to the Sahel in the north.
He said that growing kenaf alone is a business and growing it for paper making is a bigger business. After much research and numerous trials runs, kenaf paper is now available from several commercial retailers and is being used by major corporations, printing and graphics firms and publishers.
According to him, “research in Nigeria also confirmed this assertion. This plant and similar other non-wood plants identified as the best non-wood paper alternative has the following merits: Kenaf could be grown and harvested within 150 days. It is a highly tolerant of sites and could be grown in wide range of ecological zones and a cycle of three times are possible in a year. Kenaf also yields more fiber per acre than southern pine producing 5-10 tons of dry fiber per acre, or approximately 3 to 5 times as much as pine.”
Research has also shown that kenaf has exceptional papermaking characteristics that required less chemicals, heat and time to pulp its fibers because they are not as tough as wood pulp and contain less lignin.
“Lignin is a resin that binds the cellulose fibers in plants or trees together. Toxic chemicals such as chlorine are predominantly used to delignify and bleach wood pulp. Kenaf can be quickly and easily pulped and bleached with harmless chemicals, such as hydrogen peroxide,” Oluwadare said.
He stated that research for development has major roles to play in revitalizing the sector. But Nigeria missed this opportunity shortly after the collapse of the pulp and paper research laboratory in the Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi (FIRRO), because there were no equipment and facilities to work with.
“In the early 1960’s, many tree species were characterized for their suitability for papermaking and the breakthrough of the research was the exotic species in the name of Gmelina arborea.
“In the current stance, to carry out any meaningful characterisation of any fibrous raw material will require foreign intervention to secure a good laboratory. This is a form of capital flight in form of academic tourism. Thus, the need for a well-equipped laboratory is a step forward towards solving the present paper crisis,” he said.
The Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of FAE Limited, Ms. Princess Funmilayo Okeowo Bakare, observed that innovation by researchers has shown that Kenaf could be used in paper production, which offered environmental advantages over reproducing paper from trees. “Distinguishing characteristics of Kenaf for paper production include low lignin in content and naturally whiter fibre, which can be translated into a decreased requirement for bleaching. Thus, Kenaf can produce a paper that requires less energy while substantially reducing environmental pollution. With $10m, we can create a cluster of paper mills about 500-600 all over the nation. This will improve the foreign exchange and the economy at large. You can never go wrong with investing in Kenaf paper,” she said.
Kenaf farming is the cultivation of kenaf crop from the stage of seeding to the final stage of harvesting and processing the kenaf seeds and fibres to other products. It one of the most lucrative farming ventures in Nigeria, however, only a few people know how profitable the cultivation of kenaf could be. It is not uncommon to see farmers who planted 2kg of kenaf seeds and harvested 65kg of kenaf seeds.
Kenaf known as Hibiscus Cannabinus, it is a highly yielding fibre crop which is used for the production of a variety of products. Kenaf is usually grown in tropical areas and could be grown in almost all the states of Nigeria.
Characteristics of Kenaf
Kenaf produces fibres which can be used to produce a lot of products, including paper production.
A Researcher and Blogger, Mr. Ayo Akinfolarin, said that Kenaf fibre could be used for the production of ropes, bags and sacks for the storage of grains and other food items. It could also be used for the production of wood, clothing material, resin, lubricants and biofuel and manufacturing of some automotive parts.
According to the President of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Dr. Matthew Olawale-Cole, there is need to facilitate discussions that would proffer practicable solutions to the intractable challenges undermining the optimisation of economic potentials of Nigeria’s paper industry.
Olawale-Cole said that Europe’s Association of for Plastics and Rubber Machinery Manufacturers stated that Nigeria is the Africa’s second largest importer of printing and paper processing technologies. This made Olawale-Cole to state that the Nigerian paper industry “is a paradox that defies logic. This is because despite huge arable land and abundant forest resources across the country, especially wood which is the major feedstock in paper production, Nigeria relies on importation of raw materials to meet her demand for paper products.”
He said that according to the National Bureau of Statistics foreign trade report, Nigeria spent N410 billion on importation of paper making material, paper and paperboard articles from January to September 2021.
Olawale-Cole said: “Charting the course for self-sufficiency in production of raw materials by exploring opportunities for production of fibrous and cellulose materials from many seasonal plants in addition to wood, this will engender a more sustainable source for raw materials and help to preserve our environment.
“General policy inertia of the government and the issue of import duty of between 20-30 per cent impose by the government on semi-finished products (paper and boards) while printed textbooks attract zero per cent, is disincentive to investment in local production.”